Are you the polymath you need to be?
One of the things I have always loved about running a business is that there is no place to hide. Whether the organisation makes a profit or not, whether the customer toilets are in the state they should be, whether the staff are engaged or not are all measures of the effectiveness of the leader of the business. The success of any business is a measure of the leaders of that business.
Exciting or frightening
Now we can either find that exciting or we can find that frightening depending on our perspective. For me it was exciting, but also exhausting. On many occasions I have tried to work out exactly, or even roughly, the breadth of skills and knowledge that the leader, particularly of an SME, really needs and have found the list to be huge. I have even thrown it open to the floor at seminars and keynotes over the years. We have never gotten even close to a number and so when I saw that the nice people at Mind Tools had written a book called ‘100 Ways to Be a Better Boss’ I thought they might have done some of the leg work for me. It is a great book and has some great hints and tips but, frustratingly, it is just scratching the surface.
Becoming a business leader
When you become a business leader it is no longer enough to be an expert in what the business does. You need to become pretty damn competent in the business of business. That is really the challenge of all entrepreneurs who would scale their business. It is not sufficient to become better in what the business does whether that be writing code, brewing beer or dressing hair, we need to become better at running a business. And running a business is a complex set of skills. A complex set of skills that they don’t teach you …anywhere.
Before you say that you can learn those things at business school let me correct you. You don’t. Typically, and in my personal experience, you can learn a lot at business school, but not much of it is of use to the busy SME leader. There is not much relevance in learning how HP reinvented itself or how Blockbuster or Carillion crashed and burned to the over pressed boss trying to deal with an intransigent employee who is just on his own personal agenda and doesn’t seem to want to follow the most basic of instructions.
Daniel Goleman, the man who is credited with popularising the notion of ‘Emotional Intelligence’ once said “There are two realities going on here: The Ivory Tower world of academia, and the rubber-hits-the-road world of the workplace. Academia plays by a different set of rules of proof than do folks in the business world: what gets published in peer-reviewed journals, versus what actually works”. So the challenge remains how do hard-pressed leaders of smaller businesses learn what they need to learn, across the very wide spectrum of knowledge just before they need to know it?
And as if that wasn’t enough of a challenge great performance isn’t about simply knowing what to do but about being able to execute at a high enough level, consistently and repeatedly whenever required. No wonder business leaders who aren’t constantly investing in their own growth and development can get stuck so easily and those who have the foresight and courage to find a trusted guide can make much more rapid and safe progress.
Come along to our next seminar ‘Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Business Books’ on 19th September at Emirates Riverside, Chester-Le-Street.